Legendary Watches: The Breitling Navitimer

Legendary Watches: The Breitling Navitimer

by Matthew Boston

The Navitimer became famous for its combination of chronograph and slide-rule bezel, although it wasn’t Breitlings first to combine these features it became popular and was utilized by both professional and military pilots due to it being a flight tool capable of making calculations for a flight plan and offering a range of inflight calculations. Using the Navitimer pilots could calculate fuel consumption, rates of ascent, descent, average speed or converting distances. It could even be used to determine exchange rates, useful for when the pilot reached their destination. The name “Navitimer” is a combination of the words Navigationa and Timer.

There has been much discussion about the origins of the first Navitimers and a lot of mystery surrounds them since Breitlings records are deficient and nobody seems to know for certain the full story, there is a lot of disagreement by specialists on all the subtle details. What is for sure is that after the achievement of the Chronomat, the world’s first slide rule chronograph unveiled in the early 1940’s, Breitling made a second slide rule chronograph and according to Breitling launched it somewhere between 1952 and 1954.

Vintage Breitling Chronomat

Vintage Breitling Chronomat

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) logo can be seen on the dial of these first watches and it is believed they all had this logo. Some experts believe Breitling designed the watch and then AOPA asked for their logo to be placed on the dial while others think the watch was specifically designed for members of AOPA.

With much of Breitling’s own early records having been lost the true facts aren’t currently known but may be hidden somewhere in the records of AOPA. What can be roughly stated is that the Navitimer with 3 Subdials was produced in four editions.

Breitling Navitimer – The 1st Edition

According to Breitling the first Navitimers were produced in 1952, though some people feel it wasnt until 1954 that they first became available. The seed for the Breitling Navitimer was formed when Breitling & AOPA decided to create a watch with a built-in chronograph and navigation computer (sliderule). The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association consequently decided to make it their official watch resulting in the wing logo appeared on the dial.

Breitling Navitimer (1952)

Breitling Navitimer (1952)

In these first models the renowned Valjoux 72 movement was used during 1954, and the first half of 1955, although at this stage no reference number was printed on the back. Not until 1955 did it officially become reference number 806.

The Valjoux 72 Navitimer has become a highly prized watch for Navitimer collectors all over the world due to the fact that nobody knows for certain how many of these Navitimers were produced with the Valjoux 72 movement during the 1954-55 period.

This model was produced with a black dial and subdials and a ‘beads of rice’ bezel throughout the 1950’s, only the Breitling logo ‘B’ and the name itself were engraved on the case back. Sometime in 1955 the movement was replaced with the Venus 178.

It seems that as early as 1959 the all-black dials were replaced with silver ones, and new designs for the hands and bezel started to appear from around about 1960. There were multiple variations of the silver dial version just as there had been of the black one.

Breitling Navitimer – 2nd Edition

By 1960 the Navitimer had become a great success, and its design was altered with the change in dial from black to white, redesigned hands also the AOPA logo on the dial was replaced with the official Breitling Navitimer logo, a design showing two aircrafts flying in close formation. 1959 to 60 is considered to be a transitionary period for the Navitimer resulting in the release of models combining both new and old features.

Breitling Navitimer from 1960

Breitling Navitimer from 1960

Nevertheless Breitling still continued to produce Navitimers the AOPA logo on the dial for AOPA. During this time the sliderulebezel was also remodelled a couple of times. Incidentally, in order for the sliderule to be completely legible its crucial that the Navitimer has a curved type of crystal, this is also considered to give the watch a nicer appearance overall.

Although remaining the same reference number – 806 Navitimers with larger subdials started to appear by the mid 60’s. The movement remained the Venus 178 but a limited number of Navitimers with Valjoux 7736 movements were released from 1967 at the same time, and this model (reference no. 806-36) as well as large subdials had the Breitling doublewing on its dial. It has been speculated that the reason for this was that the success of the Navitimer caused Breitling to run out of Venus 178 movements.

Breitling Navitimer – 3rd Edition

In 1961 , Scott Carpenter, one of the original astronauts in the Mercury space program, approached Breitling with the idea for a watch featuring a 24 hour dial instead of the normal 12 one. This feature being particularly useful due to the lack of day and night during space travel so it could be used to distinguish between midday and midnight. Before Carpenter could use it though it had to pass the rigorous NASA testing to make sure it was suitable for space travel. In May of 1962 astronaut Scott Carpenter went into space on the Aurora 7 wearing a Navitimer that featured a 24 hour indication.

Scott Carpenter inside Aurora 7

Scott Carpenter inside Aurora 7

During the 1960’s it was produced with both AOPA’s logo and Breitling’s Doublewing logo on the dial. This model with the 24 hours indication was called the “Navitimer Cosmonaute” and was assigned reference number “809”. Although confusion has arisen with this model since inexplicably the name “Cosmonaute” is nowhere to be found on many reference 809 Navitimers. To clarify it, while all the reference 806’s are considered Navitimers, 809’s are all considered to be Cosmonautes.

Similarly as with the 806 probably due to a shortage of movements Breitling also made a small number of Cosmonautes using a modified Valjoux 7736.

Breitling Navitimer – 4th Edition

Many changes were made to the Navitimer between 1971 and 1974, internally the highly regarded Venus 178 movement was replaced with a Valjoux 7740, whilst on the outside the registers grew to their largest size. Many watch connoisseurs feel that after these changes it was no longer a genuine Navitimer, although a lot of people find it more attractive than the genuine 806 Navitimer due to the larger registers.

Breitling Navitimer Chrono-matic (1970)

Breitling Navitimer Chrono-matic (1970)

Breitling Navitimer – Conclusion

Breitlings Navitimer is unlikely to be surpassed as their most famous watch, and despite various modifications over the years its remained very similar in design to the original.

While most people will have no use for the slide rule function and since cockpits went digital its application for pilots declined. It can still be of use to pilots though as they do still need to understand how to make the type of analogue flight calculations that the Navitimer provides though in case of cockpit electronics failure.

As to current models, for the first time In 2012 Breitling released the Navitimer with an in-house Breitling B01 movement and in 2014 an extra large 46mm version was released which featured an exhibition case back to view the Calibre 01 movement. All modern Navitimers are COSC certified and offer the opportunity to own a legendary watch.

    Author Bio

    Articles by Matthew Boston


    Matthew Boston has worked in the computer graphics industry for 17 years in various parts of the world, currently residing back home in the UK. His interest in watches was first piqued as a youngster when he was fascinated by a Seiko digital watch he received. He's also founder of UniqueWatchGuide which is dedicated to sharing the news about timepieces that are unusual, unconventional and more often than not unobtainable.